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Mothers day 2011 saw us crossing the Solent over to the Isle of Wight on one of the Wightlink car ferries when all of a sudden one of the coastguard helicopters appeared at eye level on the side of the ship. This caused great excitement amongst the passengers with everyone rushing outside to get a closer look and the ships crew telling everyone to get back inside!

It was one of those unfortunate occasions when I didn’t have the camera, they always happen when you’ve decided not to burden yourself down with lots of equipment, I just never learn! So I just sat back, held onto the dog tightly as she had never seen a helicopter before and it was all very frightening, then I remembered the iPhone in my pocket so all was not lost.

Obviously not the best photo in the world, but considering that it is heavily cropped and taken through the sea sprayed window it’s more than acceptable.

This turned out to be an exercise that provided much excitement to what otherwise is a very mundane 45 minute crossing.

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The following is a letter that my son recently sent to Sir Richard Branson though I’m not too shire that it will ever actually reach him. I’m also not sure if it was his up bringing, or the fact that he is now in the police force, that makes him so pedantic (may be even a pedant)!

I have replaced the names of the individuals mentioned in the letter as I don’t think it is particularly fair to publish them on the internet.

Hopefully this might give you just a little laugh, I must admit that it brought more than just a smile to my face.

Dear Sir Branson,
 
Please allow me to start by saying that I have always held the Virgin empire and services in the highest regards. As a child I flew with virgin on several occasions and always had a pleasant experience with no requirement for my family or myself to complain.
 
Since maturing into an adult I have had very few opportunities to be able to fly long haul and therefore utilize Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays, however, I have still raved about your other services and am currently one of your credit card holders. This all being well and good is sadly currently being warped by the service your company is currently not providing me with.
 
Due to family friends getting married in Florida I have decided to cough the expense and make an effort to head out to the USA along with the rest of my family. My parents, sister and her husband are all flying out to Tamper using British Airways but my partner and I decided that we would fly out to Orlando with Virgin Airways and meet up with the rest of the family there before embarking on a mission around some theme parks and then onwards to traveling around the rest of Florida for a further week taking in the sights of places such as Miami, Key West and the Everglades. What a wonderful way to spend a couple of weeks I hear you telling yourself, and that is exactly what I thought, until I started the booking process. And so the saga begins.
 
Having looked online at just Virgin Atlantic purely to book flights and then sort car hire out separately, I was then tempted to see what was on offer through Virgin Holidays. On visiting the website I found out that I could book fly drive direct, although the cost was more expensive than booking flights and car hire separate? Having seen a small section of the website that said they would try to beat any other quote, I decided to phone to see what could be offered.
 
On Friday 29th June 2012 at 0953hrs, I called the number and was greeted by an incredibly friendly and helpful female, by the name of Agent1 who introduced herself as working from the Kensington Branch. I spoke with Agent1 about my requirements for a fly drive holiday, and Agent1 sadly explained that you would not price match via quotes received online. Now this is something that I can understand since it is a very competitive world out there. So with this in mind I thanked Agent1 for her time and explained that I will visit the Virgin Atlantic website and book my flights. To this Agent1, bless her kindness, expressed that as of that very same day Virgin Holidays had just started doing flight only bookings. I was ecstatic! I thought to myself, as anyone would, “great, one call and it will all be sorted”.
 
So Agent1 took my dates and personal information and then told me that she could do the flights for £862.18 for the pair of us return. My God, I was flabbergasted, this was a good £100 cheaper than I had found direct with Virgin Atlantic, so without hesitation (as anyone would) I instructed Agent1 to book the flights. She was good enough to say she would confirm this and call me back in 5 minutes to take my payment. Having hung up the phone I sat there gleaming in my own amazement to the fact that I could now afford to book a better hire car since I had saved money on the flights.
 
Well 20 minutes passes and finally I received the call back from Agent1. She was sounding sheepish and apologetic from the start so I knew something was wrong. With this Agent1 explained how she had made an error in the quote as she had forgotten to add the ‘tax’ to the booking cost, and then she re-quoted me for the flights £966.60. From my prior research I knew that this was the cost I was being quoted directly off the Virgin Atlantic website, so, disappointed and marginally irritated that the mistake was made, I instructed Agent1 to go ahead with the booking. Agent1, being ever so kind and still slightly embarrassed by her mistake, said that to make up for the fact I was misquoted, she would waive the 2.5% credit card fee and would just charge me £966.60. I thought to myself, well, that’s better than a slap round the face with a wet fish, and duly accepted her offer and passed over my credit card details and remainder of my personal information. Agent1 told me that she would pass the payment for £966.60 straight away and would email me with confirmation that this was done. And so I waited………..
 
After an hour of not receiving any reply, I called Agent1 back on her direct number, and was again greeted by her smiling happy voice. Agent1 explained that the payment had been passed and she had sent a confirmation email, although bearing in mind I had not received this, she again checked my email address and then re-sent the confirmation email. Please see the attached email!!
 
Perfect I thought to myself, done and dusted! WRONG!
 
So, Saturday 30th June 2012 arrives and I receive and email from Virgin Holidays (official looking as it was logo headed). I checked the information as instructed by the email itself and was dismayed to see that the price stated on this email was £967.72. Considering this email was headed “Invoice” I assumed that this was accurate! Now, I know what you’re thinking, why am I reading this when, all this customer is complaining about is a cost difference of £1.12 (but let’s face it, you didn’t get to where you are by not noticing money just being siphoned out of your account!). And sure enough, this was the start of my annoyance, but it was not so much the £1.12 that annoyed me, more the fact that I was quoted and told that payment had been taken (by Agent1) to the value of £966.60. As I am sure you can imagine, to be told one thing, and to have another happen is irritating to say the least, let alone me point out the fact that this is technically theft under criminal law (definition of theft; a person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it!).
 
Well needless to say, I called the number included in this email to query the fact that the wrong amount was shown on the invoice! I was calling this number from a mobile, so let’s face it, by the time someone answers I have probably already spend more on my mobile bill than the amount I am querying, but it is now the principle of the matter!
 
Eventually the call is answered by a female, who’s name I was unable to catch. I explained the reason for my call, to which she apologised for the inconvenience. Of course, she could not explain to me how this misdemeanour had occurred but assured me that she would credit my card with £1.12 as had been taken. Well, I was obviously pleased that this was going to happen, but asked specifically to speak to a manager who could explain how this happened. This lady could not/would not put me onto a manager at the time, but instead told me that someone from the support team would contact me on either Monday or Tuesday. I could tell that I would not gain an explanation from the call taker, so this had to suffice. Time to wait for the call from the support team!
 
Well Sir Branson, you could never guess what happened, could you? Yep, you’re right, I didn’t receive a call! So come Wednesday 4th July 2012 at 1040, and having checked my credit card bill (and yes, you did charge me £967.72 and no, by this time I had not received the credit of £1.12) I decided that again I would have to call customer support and see what happened. But sadly I was unable to speak to anyone! I believe that there may have been a fault with the phone lines, but by the time I had gone through the relevant options (about 2 minutes per call and more pennies on the phone bill) the line would just go dead. So thinking that this might just be a glitch with your system at 1047 I tried to call again, but needless to say, the same thing happened!
 
Rest assured, by this stage I was down, but not defeated and there is more than one way to skin a cat. So back to your website, onto the customer support section and open up the ‘online chat’ section. Fantastic, sure enough within 5 minutes I am chatting to Agent2 (when I say chatting, I really mean typing my fury as quickly as possible). So I explained to Agent2 why I was ‘chatting’ to her and in the politest way possible explained my irritation with the customer support that I had not received and that I wanted to know why no-one had been in touch. Still, Agent2 helped to put my mind at rest. She finished our ‘chat’ by telling me she would email the Kensington Branch and Branch manager, and ask them to call me that same day. She even asked if there was any time that would not be convenient and got me to provide my phone number again so there could be no mistake!
 
Well, there was either a problem with the mobile phone network that day, or no-one could be bothered to call me! I will let you decide which it might have been!
 
So to Thursday 5th July 2012. Again, I start my morning by checking the good old mobile banking, and sure enough, nothing had yet been credited to my card! Time to check the mobile phone, and again no missed calls, messages or anything else for this matter! So onwards and back to calling the call centre to get the issue amended!
 
It would appear that any possible phone problems within Virgin Holidays were by this stage fixed. I called at 1031 and after a short time on hold (about 8 minutes) I finally got to speak to a human being. Sadly, and again due to his accent I was unable to catch the name of the male I was now speaking to, but I had a good 6 minute conversation with him, again expressing my annoyance and my grave dissatisfaction with the lack of explanation as to why your company thought it would be right to take additional money from me without my consent. Well, with this I again got the same excuse as in the previous contact! The male call taker could not provide an answer, so provided me with the following. The first was that he promised that I would receive the sum of £1.12 credited to my credit card within 2 working days, the second promise made was that I would receive a call from a manager within 24hrs. Again I thanked him for his time and the conversation ended.
 
Now on to the time of writing, Friday 6th July 2012 at 1600hrs, and as I am sure you can guess by the fact I am going to the length of writing this that yes, no-one has yet been in touch. Again, I have checked the balance on my credit card, and as yet there has been no credit placed onto the card. Once again, I re-iterate to you the fact that the money is only the starting block to this, but that lack of customer service is the biggest gripe I currently have. I have now been told on 3 separate occasions that I would receive a call back by a manager. This has stretched over the period of a week and still I have not been able to speak to anyone who can resolve the issue about why the over-charge was taken in the first instance.
 
What I am struggling to understand, is how a man of your calibre, who has managed to build up such a sterling reputation, can allow such appalling customer service to go unnoticed and unchallenged. Certainly in my line of work, if I was to say I will call someone, or help someone, then this is exactly what is expected of me to do, in an appropriate time frame.
 
This is the first experience I have had of booking through Virgin Holidays and based on the lack of customer service, it is possibly going to be the last time.
I have not asked for a miracle, nor have I asked to be taken to the moon and back! All I have asked, every time I have spoken to someone is to be credited the £1.12 to the credit card, and to speak to a manager who will be able to explain why this money has been taken.
 
I hope that you can understand the cause for my concern. Your branding goes to great lengths to show that your company cares for everyone on an individual basis, and aims to make each holiday personalised, but sadly this is not how I am currently feeling. I can only estimate at this stage that I have had to spend somewhere near £5 on calls to your customer support and still have no answer. And as of yet, we have not even had our holiday, but yet the booking process of the flights has currently been more stressful than arranging car hire, hotel accommodation and theme park tickets, which have all gone seemingly smoothly.
 
I trust that you can resolve this medial issue in a now timely fashion, without any further undue stress to myself or my partner and assist us in enjoying our vacation.
Thank you for your patience and time to read this and I await your response with baited breath.
 
Kind regards

Who knows, maybe in my younger days I would have done the same, Come to think of it a few years ago, when I frequently flew Virgin to the states, I did actually write to Richard Branson with a complaint, never did get an answer from him personally, but someone replied.

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Unfortunately this is the last day of this wonderful journey through what must surly be some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet. It finds me in a reflective mood thinking about all the fantastic sights we’ve seen and the things we’ve done.

It is equally unfortunate that I am sitting in the lounge, with a pile of hand luggage, writing this while yet again we start to pass yet more incredibly beautiful and diverse scenery. I guess that what I see today will just have to be taken away in my own memory rather than on the memory in the camera. It may well provide me with the impetus to come again to see the many things that I have missed along the way, maybe I should arrange a photographic expedition for other like minded individuals, any takers?

Last night proved to be the roughest of the journey, the ship was rocking and rolling all over the place, the now nearly empty bottle of Disaronno even slipped noisily onto the floor in the middle of the night. Even with the extremely rough seas Steph was fine, which considering her lack of ‘sea legs’ is quite a major feat.

So this is the final chapter as it were, a summary of the last twelve days, maybe a review even and a recommendation, but probably no photos, or at least only a few at best as the internet is proving to be exceedingly slow to non existent today. While writing this I am still trying to finish off Day 11 but every time I try and upload a photo to Flickr the process just hangs, so it may well not be until we get back home that the last two days of the blog get posted.

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As we sailed into Bergen we went out onto deck 6 and took some photos of the city, just as a final keepsake. It was as we started to queue to get off the ship that Steph said “Have you got the bus tickets?”, “The bus tickets, I think there in with my phone” I say as I franticly rummage around in the laptop bag for my phone case. When I finally manage to open the right compartment and then open the phone case there are no tickets to be found anywhere! Then it dawned on me, I had bought them last night from the excursion desk, paid cash and put them in the phone case, they were just like a credit card receipt. After breakfast this morning I put my last krone notes in the tip jar on the restaurant desk, at the same time I took out a small accumulation of ‘cruise card’ receipts, which I later deposited in a bin. Shame that the airport bus ticket was one of them!

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I’m glad that the excursion director was in the baggage claim area when we got down there otherwise my life wouldn’t have been worth living! Luckily he was most understanding and had a word with the bus drivers so we didn’t have to repurchase our tickets, and at 170 krone each that was a real relief. In future I must remember to check the receipts before I chuck them away.

Where to start then, that is the difficulty. Should I just write dow a bunch of words, or maybe a list with a rating from 1 to 10, maybe both, decisions, decisions.

Hurtigruten

I booked our cruise direct with Hurtigruten and not through a travel agent, which for us was fine but other people might prefer the comfort of knowing that everything is done for them in one package. The booking process was reasonably simple and straightforward and was completed mainly on the internet. Once the booking was made and the deposit payed we were sent an invoice with instructions on how, and when, to pay the balance. Once the balance had been paid our tickets and itinerary was promptly emailed to us.

On the couple of occasions that I had to ring Hurtigruten, for instance when pre booking our excursions, I was dealt with promptly and courteously. Documentation was always updated and forwarded within a day of payments being made.

One thing that I am extremely glad about is that I booked our flights directly rather than through Hurtigruten which meant that we flew direct into, and out of, Bergen. All the other passengers that we spoke to that had booked packages flew in on indirect flights, some having to have three flight changes.

Excursions

We did four excursions all told, the Viking Feast, Wilderness Safari, Snow Hotel and the Midnight Concert in the Arctic Cathedral. All of these excursion were well organised, timed to perfection and included everything that was advertised. Were they value for money? That is always a subjective question which I can’t really answer, the best that I can do is this, they were informative and enjoyable so if that is how you judge value, then they were good value. At the end of the day I have already documented what we did on the various excursions, so you the reader of this will need to make up your own mind as to the cost/value of them to you.

The alternative obviously would be to book these separately, but just bear in mind that you may well need to organise your own transport and that you may have to leave the ship at one port and then rejoin it at another. If this is the case make sure that the crew are aware of your intentions otherwise there could be complications.

Costs

As with all cruises, this is not a cheap option for seeing Norway, but then again there possibly is no cheap way to see Norway. The costs can vary greatly according to how you book, the type of cabin you choose and the level of meal options. We had an outside cabin on deck 7 with all meals included, although with the exception of water, tea and coffee with breakfast and lunch, drinks are extra.

You should remember that drinks are expensive wherever you buy them in Norway, below is an example of what we paid whilst on board:

  • PepsiMax – 39 krone (£4.37)
  • Bottle Bear – 45 krone (£5.05)
  • Draught Beer – 59 krone (£6.62)
  • Glass of Wine – 79 krone (£8.86)

So not cheap, even a cup of coffee in the cafeteria will cost you 37 krone (£4.15), so the advice is get the coffee deal when you first get on board and drink lots of water!

Food

We were on a full board basis so had breakfast, lunch and dinner included in the cost. Breakfast and lunch were always buffet style with open seating whereas dinner was waited and reserved seating, with the exception of 2 meals. Breakfast consisted of cereals, various cold meats, cheese, fish, hot meats, fish eggs and a host of other things. There was always ample choice though best not to go right at the end as clearing up often started early.

Again lunch was always a mixture of hot and cold food, soup if you wanted it and a choice of various puddings and cheeses, far too many my own good.

Dinner consisted of two sittings, the first at six thirty and the second at eight thirty, these times did fluctuate on occasion so it is a good idea to check each day on the days itinerary sheet, or the various notices posted around the ship. The service was always exemplary and the food delicious, although there were some passengers who thought it was not ‘gourmet’ enough. There is a booklet available in various languages detailing all the meals that will be served during the voyage, so if there is something you can’t eat, or won’t eat, you can always ask for a substitute.

Recommendations

This is a big ask, would I recommend this cruise and Hurtigruten, the answer on both counts is a resounding NO, but only because I wouldn’t want not to be able to go again because it was full to capacity.

The truth is that not only would I recommend this ‘experience’ I would urge everyone to do it. Having said all of the above I should point out that this is no ordinary cruise, it is an ‘experience’, this is more like a car ferry than your average cruise liner, but then that’s what really makes it quite special. There is no formal dress code, no major shows although on our cruise there was a live duet every night playing the sax, fiddle, keyboard and singing from about 8 till around 12.

The Trollfjord is one of the biggest and newest vessels in the fleet having a capacity of some 822 passengers, but is still able to retain a rather intimate atmosphere, which was not to everyones taste. Personally we really enjoyed it, the crew were always helpful, pleasant and willing to chat. It is interesting to note that a lot of the staff appear to have multiple jobs, on more than one occasion we saw the restaurant staff in the cabins doubling up as chambermaids. It was also refreshing to note that all of the staff were Norwegian, as far as we could tell.

There was always plenty of room in the public areas to find somewhere to sit and relax, it might not always be the seat right at the front of the panorama lounge but I don’t think we were ever disappointed.

Do your research before you go and you will not be disappointed.

Pros

Fantastic Scenery
Good Food
Good Accommodation
Friendly and Accommodating Crew
Some Superb Excursions

Cons

Limited Shore Time
Expensive Drinks
Nothing Much Else

We were exceedingly fortunate – We hunted the lights and found them.

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I truly hope that you will be as fortunate in your hunting.

 

 

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Our penultimate day see us arrive back in Trondheim at about six in the morning and although we will be here for nearly four hours we decided not to get off on the basis that it is much too early in the morning and we toured the town on our way north. We were down to breakfast around nine fifteen which meant that I could just get out on deck to take some photos of the harbour before we continued our journey southward.

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Apart from being able to photograph Munkholmen, which in its time has served as a prison island, fort and monastery, I was also able to photograph the current Hurtigruten Finnmarken, if you remember we had seen the original ship in Stokmarknes, where she is now part of the Hurtigruten museum, on Day 9.

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For the rest of the morning I wandered round the ship, happy snappy, while Steph sat in the panorama lounge just taking in the breathtaking scenery and occasionally reading her Kindle. So here are just a few of photos of the scenery.

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At some stage of my wanderings I came across one of the young crew members giving a lesson to another youngster, I’m not sure if this was a new trainee or maybe someone on work experience, as he really didn’t look a day over fifteen. Maybe it was the son of one of the crew members, who knows, but it did provide another photographic opportunity not to be missed.

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This is primarily a day of laziness in that we did not leave the ship, even when we docked at the port of Kristiansund at four thirty for half an hour, it was however a day to take photos and I make no apology if today there are more photos than words.

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It must have been close on six in the evening when we decided to go and have an other plunge in the jacuzzi up on the top deck. We almost rang across the wind swept deck and then almost jumped into the jacuzzi itself. We lay there for several minutes trying to get the bubbles to start but it was all to no avail as they just would not start. Not to worry as it was hot and relaxing anyway, that is until we looked up to see the rather ominous black clouds looming all around us. We sank lower in the jacuzzi, still trying to get the ‘hubble bubbles’ to start, and still no joy. Then the clouds burst, the hail started to come down, and we dragged ourselves out of the warm water and made a frantic dash across the wind swept deck to get back to the changing room before we were completely pelted by the sleety hail. Thank God for the warmth of the sauna!

The rest of the evening was spent trying to repack everything we had brought with us, and of course any new purchases that we may have made. We went to settle our account before dinner so that everything would be sorted for the morning.

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We were woken up this morning by the tannoy announcement that we would soon be crossing the arctic circle again, so it was a quick shower followed by a quick rush on to the deck to see us leave the arctic behind. We look all around to try and see the arctic circle but of course we don’t really know what we’re looking for, is there maybe a  big red line, like at the airport when you’re waiting to go through immigration, of course there isn’t, well not that we saw anyway.

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After floating by the last couple of snow capped islands within the circle we come to the island, and the globe monument on it, that marks the latitude 66° 33′ 44″ and the ship dutifully sounds it’s horn as we effortlessly move passed on our journey south.

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I’m glad that we then decided to make our way straight to breakfast rather than go to the ‘ceremony’ again, as we later found out that the southbound ceremony is even worse that the one going north. How can it possibly be worse I hear you say, well on the southward leg of the journey they make you drink a spoonful of cod liver oil, that how. As a souvenir they do let you keep the spoon, which is fish shaped and would undoubtedly be forgotten at the bottom of one of those ever overflowing draws that never seem to get emptied until you move. As Steph pointed out, she’d probably loose it like the one she dropped into her handbag when we flew on Concord!

There was enough time after breakfast to have a wander round deck 6 and take a few more photos before we were due into our next port of call, were we thought we would get off and have a stroll around. Since leaving the arctic the weather seems to have gotten slightly brighter with higher than freezing temperatures so that the ships crew have started hosing deck 6.

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As we approach Sandnessjoen there are a number of other large vessels already tied up in the harbour, one of which is a large Statoil ship, and judging by the large tower in the middle of the vessel she might even be a drilling ship.

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As we make our way down from deck 6 to deck 4 to disembark we notice some people so desperate for a ‘fag’ that they actually go out of their office windows to stand on the roof for their fix of nicotine, rather them than me, particularly as the temperature is well below zero!

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As we disembarked at Sandnessjoen at 12:30 for an hours sojourn in the town the weather seemed to be turning again and within a few minutes of arriving we were in a near blizzard white out as we walked from the ship up the main street.

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Steph obviously was savouring every moment of the snow, I, on the other hand was trying very hard to protect my equipment, if you know what I mean!

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Being a big fan of Dolly I just couldn’t resist taking the following photo while we were walking up the main street, well you have to don’t you?

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After getting back onboard the ship we went to the restaurant for a light lunch, OK maybe just lunch would be a better term as there wasn’t anything light about it. I’m glad that I decided to take the camera down with me as shortly after leaving the port we went passed the ‘De Syv Sostre‘ (the seven sisters), an amazing mountain range.

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At first I thought that it was hardly worth going out on deck to photograph them as they were shrouded in mist and cloud, nevertheless I decided to go, and boy was I glad that I did.

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As we sailed along the side of them the weather changed again, the mist evaporated, the cloud lifted and the most spectacular views just appeared. If I didn’t know any better I’d think that I was in the Dolomites. These are truly magnificent mountains seeming to almost rise out of the sea.

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As if a curtain had risen as we sailed past, as we reach the end of the range down it came again engulfing the last of the peaks in cloud.

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I stayed out on deck for most of the rest of the afternoon taking photos of the ship and the amazing scenery that we continued to pass as we made our way ever southward towards our final destination of Bergen.

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Of course I wasn’t the only one onboard that was taking advantage of the good conditions.

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The sun dipping behind the clouds during the late afternoon provided ample opportunity for some lovely sun-scape photographs.

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We arrived at our next port of call, Bronnoysund, around quarter past four and stayed for about forty-five minutes, just long enough to actually catch the sunset.

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The light was truly a joy to behold.

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Today sees us continuing our journey southward. Around nine thirty we are told that we are about to slow down considerably as we are just entering a channel that is very shallow, intact the clearance under the keel of the ship is just two meters and judging by the marker posts there is about the same amount of clearance on either side of the ship too.

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We slowly make our way along until we arrived at the port of Risoyhamn around ten forty-five where the ship gingerly had to do a 180 degree turn before being able to dock.

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We set sail again some fifteen minutes later heading for our next port of call, Sortland where we decided that we would disembark and have a wander round, even though the stop would only be for thirty minutes or so.

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We duly disembarked to find that it was snowing, nevertheless we decide to continue and explore for the next half hour, which proved to be more than sufficient time as Sortland really isn’t a very large port.

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When we got back on board there was just enough time for a spot of lunch before we reach Stokmarknes, our next port of call and our next disembarkation. We had an hour here to explore the port and what it had two offer. It was a pretty place, all covered in snow though luckily it had by now actually stopped snowing.

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Right on the quayside as we disembarked was the Hurtigruten museum, which has attached to it one of the older Hurtigruten vessels, the Finnmarken which was launched in 1956 and was in service right through until 1964.

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We didn’t bother with the museum as such but rather took the elevator to the third floor where we were then able to cross over to the Finnmarken.

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Unlike museum pieces back home which are normally well preserved and restored, the Finnmarken was neither. I couldn’t work out if it is in the process of being restored or if it is just being left as it is, whatever, it was an interesting half an hour seeing what one of the older ships was like, and by todays standards it was nowhere as comfortable or refined, even though this one was not retired all that long ago.

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We continued into the town for another twenty minutes or so before returning to the ship to continue with our journey south.

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We headed straight up to deck 9 where there was to be a fish filleting demonstration. Being almost the first people up on the deck we placed ourselves just to the from of the tables that were obviously going to be used for the demonstration. Isn’t it amazing that no matter how early you are for something, or how close you stand, you will just never be at the front.

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Strange that, but true. In fairness it wasn’t so much that I wasn’t at the front but more that I was jostled and pushed from the sides, still it’s worth a bit of a moan. Steph was worse done by as she did get pushed backwards, but that doesn’t matter quite so much as she already knows how to fillet a fish, she just gets the scissors out and cuts open the packet. Anyway I do the cooking, well most of the time, and Waitrose do have a good selection of fresh filleted fish!

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The demonstration was interesting though not that informative as the chef didn’t actually talk us through what he was doing but just got on with it. He did talk about the two fresh salmon that he was using, where they had come from, how they were going to serve them to us. That last bit really got everyone excited and they just couldn’t wait to get their hands on the first samples of the freshly carved raw fish, although I’m not sure that once tasted that it was everyones cup of tea. Personally, I enjoyed it, Steph on the other hand was rather less enthralled.

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When the demonstration was over, or at least when I had taken sufficient photos and I was fed up with the jostling, we went back to the cabin and then decided that we would get changed into our swimming gear and go back up to deck 9 and try out the outdoor Jacuzzi. “Are you mad!” I hear you exclaim, and I guess the answer is probably yes, at least just a little. Actually quite a few other people have already been in and said how nice it is, the fact that they have pneumonia is neither here or there. The worst part of the whole experience is that the changing rooms are inside and across the open deck from the actual jacuzzi.

We spent the next hour or so in the jacuzzi just soaking up the most spectacular scenery of the journey so far, the mountains rise higher and nearer on both sides of the ship as we near the mouth of the Troll Fjord. There are so many people wandering round with cameras that I have to tell them to stop taking our photos, of course I always seem to pick on the wrong people, like the man who has two Nikons dangling from his neck.

“No photos”, I say as he approaches the jacuzzi with the intention of just walking past to photograph the scenery. He jumps slightly, startled, “No, no I am sorry I am not taking your photos”, “it’s OK mate it’s only a joke”, he hurries past but comes back a few minutes later and says in his German accent, “What would I do with zem anyway, sell zem, who would buy zen, maybe on ze internet?”, see a there is a sense of humour after all, I think!

Mind you one old boy did keep popping up and taking our photos, so you never know you might just see us half naked, outside, in a jacuzzi north of the Arctic Circle. All Steph wanted now to make it perfect was for it to start snowing, as if on queue as we pulled away from the Troll Fjord it stated. I must admit that I was rather glad to reach the changing room having had to walk across the snow covered deck in my bare feet, I did have my shoes but decided to I carry them so as not to get them wet! Once inside I popped into the sauna, which has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the fjords, for a few minutes before heading back down to the cabin to get changed.

It had been so exhilarating and warming in the jacuzzi that we just had to go and sit in the bar and have a beer before going in for dinner.

The cloud had come down and the snow with it, no lights tonight then I guess.

 

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No lights during the night which was probably good as it was a rough sea, honestly it was rough, my iPhone even fell off the table during the night and got lost somewhere under my bunk not to be found till the morning. Most inconvenient as I use it as a torch when I go to the loo during the night so that I won’t wake Steph up, yes I know I’m just so considerate!

The first port of call where we docked for long enough for us to get off the ship was Hammerfest at 11:15. The town is described as the worlds northernmost and has about 10,000 inhabitants. In the short time that we were there we managed to visit a couple of shops, a gallery where Steph managed rot find a nice Norwegian jumper that she took rather a licking to and is now being worn around the ship.

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On our way to the church we passed some roadworks, not unusual in themselves but when you consider that the roads are currently packed with ice and snow and the temperature was well below zero, it’s not bad going. Maybe I just find these things interesting because of the way that everything back home seems just grind to a halt at the merest hint of snow.

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We eventually reached the church at the top of the hill from where we had a superb view across the harbour, having said that from where we were we certainly couldn’t see the ship.

On entering the church we were created by a stunning triangular stained glass window in an otherwise quite simple and low key environment.

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After a few minutes inside it was time to make our way backdown the hill to rejoin the ship prior to it’s departure at 12:45. Just before boarding we popped into the ‘Polar Bear Society‘ museum, which is right on the quayside and worth a short visit.

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As we left the building I was able to get some photos of a rather iced up truck which was making deliveries on the quayside, I just wish that I could have got some shots of the snowplough that we had seen earlier as it had almost as much snow on it as there was on the road! Just goes to show that these trucks just manage to carry on their normal daily functions even in these harsh conditions.

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Once on board it was another change of clothing and off for a quick bite to eat before the restaurant closed.

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I spent the afternoon going up and down between decks 6 and nine, weighed down with camera bag on my back, the Canon 5D with the 100-400 lens mounted on it. This was really the first day that I felt like wandering around taking photos, probably due to the absolutely superb quality of the light. It was an almost crystal clear day with just a smattering of cloud in the otherwise azure blue sky. The light just shimmered off the snow covered mountains on both sides of the fjords.

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Towards three fifteen in the afternoon we were greeted to the sun slowly sinking behind the mountains ahead of us, a super sunset that was a fitting end to another very beautiful day.

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At about five we decided to put on our thermals and go for a wander on to the upper deck hoping that the clear conditions might just bring out the all too elusive lights. As we made our way to the rear of the ship we could see a few people, not more than half a dozen or so, looking up, conferring:

“….. is that it?”
“No that’s just a cloud, or smoke from the stack”
“I’m almost sure that’s it, but then again….”

We looked up, through the light smoke rising from the stack, and sure enough there it was, the Aurora was back! It certainly wasn’t the brightly coloured light that we had last seen two days ago but nonetheless it was there. Smaller, then larger, here, there and all around.

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First on the starboard side, then on the port, from one side across the ship right over to the other side. Then it was behind us. Where was it now, had it gone? We were looking all round but couldn’t see it. Minutes pasted and then again just a mere speck, and then a bit more, growing ever larger as we watched. Strangely, the deck was almost empty, where was everyone, in the bar maybe having a drink? We hadn’t actually heard any announcement we had just decided to go out and see for ourselves, so maybe no one else knew. “Should I go and tell the entertainments guy” asked Steph. Good idea, so off she went but unfortunately there was none to be seen at the excursion desk so the deck stayed pretty empty for the duration.

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We lost sight of the Aurora about quarter to seven before we docked at Skjervoy. We went back to our cabin just after we left Skjervoy at seven fifteen to get ready to go and have dinner.

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On the way back from dinner I thought that I would just wander out onto deck 6 to see if I could see anything. When I got to the stern of the ship I looked up and there it was, a bit faint again but it was there. As I was rushing back to the cabin to fetch Steph, well the camera really, the announcement came over the tannoy so by the time we got up to the top deck it was getting a bit crowded.

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This wasn’t to be the spectacular show that we had a couple of days ago unfortunately, nevertheless I manage to get some reasonable shots, even one which distinctly shows the plough bushing it’s way through the Aurora. For this session I had decided to whack the ISO unto 6,400 and use my 24-70mm zoom on the basis that it had somewhat larger aperture that the 17-40. This meant that I could take the exposure length down to between 1 and 3 seconds thereby significantly improving the stability of the shots. But as with everything there is a price to pay and in this case it’s noise, no not the shouting type just the thing that causes digital photos not to look nice, we old buggers used to call it ‘grain’ back in the days of film!

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By around ten it had all but gone, we were getting cold, wanted the loo yet again (note to self, don’t drink a pint of beer, a litre of water and then go and stand out in sub zero temperatures), so we decided to go in and sit in the bar for a while.

Around midnight we docked in Tromso where we disembarked to catch a coach to the Tromsdalen Kirke (also known as the Arctic Cathedral) for a midnight concert. There was lots of snow on the ground and the climb from the car park up to the church entrance was, shall we say, interesting. Once all of the coaches had deposited their passengers the concert, which consisted of a soprano, a pianist and a frugal horn player, started. It was a strange startup as there was no one to be seen anywhere, the front of the church was lit but devoid of any performers.

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The first piece was the frugal horn which resonated magnificently from the arctic style of the church walls, but still no visible sign of a performer. This was closely followed by the fine voice of the soprano, still no sign of a performer, were we really listening to a live performance? I turned round and saw her standing on the balcony behind us, an unusual start to a performance but nonetheless nice and rather peaceful. A little while later the soprano processed down the central isle to the front of the church while singing a wonderful solo piece.

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All too soon we rejoined the ship to continue our journey south. As the ship sets sail it is 1.30 in the morning, the cloud is forming, it is starting to snow and the likelihood of another sighting is highly unlikely.

 

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